(submitted photo)
(submitted photo)
Saturday July 13, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- The Wizard of Oz is not in Kansas, anymore.

It's in Vermont and headed to Brattleboro, where it will be found under the Big Top tent of Circus Smirkus on Tuesday and Wednesday, July 16 and 17.

For its 26th annual tour, Circus Smirkus, Vermont's award-winning international youth circus reached all the way to Kansas for the inspiration for this year's show, "Oz Incorporated."

Brattleboro performances, which benefit KidsPLAYce, take place at 1 and 7 p.m., on both July 16 and 17 at the Vermont Agricultural Business Education Center, off Exit 1.

"What you'll see is a nod to all of the classic storybook characters. We've got Dorothy. We've got Toto. We've got witches, both good and bad. We've got a Cowardly Lion. We've got Scacecrow. We've got the Tin Man," said Troy Wunderle, Big Top Tour artistic director and graduate of Bellows Falls Union High School and Rockingham resident. "I play the character of Oz."

But in true Smirkus fashion, simply clicking their ruby slippers and heading to Oz isn't enough. They've added a twist by sending the Oz story and all its characters careening through the corridors of corporate America.

"We're putting a corporate spin," said Wunderle, pointing that audiences will enter the circus tent through a portal that looks like an elevator in a big office building. "By placing you in the corporate world, it takes you a little away from what you expect (from the story). You wonder about that ... and we like that."

Thus, the Lion is also an accountant, the Tin Man hears a sales pitch from a team of jugglers, the Scarecrow heads the maintenance crew. And as for Wunderle?

"Not only am I the Wizard, but I'm also the corporate CEO, a kind of bungling CEO," he said.

Wunderle, of course, is also a Dad, and Circus Smirkus is a family affair in which he and wife, Sara, tour with their two daughters, Emily, age 12, and Ariana, 9, who have been charming audiences as part of the shows for years.

This year, Ariana, does some wire walking, gets to be one of the flying monkeys and has another big part.

"I do the audience participation," said Ariana, speaking by cell phone from the tour stop in Essex Junction. "It's really amazing. It's been an incredible opportunity."

Most of the time, Ariana said, the audience plays along just fine, but sometimes they're not lively enough. She expects the enthusiastic "hometown" audiences at the Brattleboro show to be really energetic.

After years of being a trouper-in-training, Emily became a full-fledged trouper last year and continues to add to her circus skills.

"I'm an aerialist," said Emily, who will appear in a number of aerial act, including the triple trapeze and in a diamond-shaped apparatus. "I just enjoy being up in the air. It's fun to look down at the audience."

Emily, who will be a seventh-grader entering Bellows Falls Middle School in the fall, is glad to be out on the road and fully embraces all the challenges of circus life.

"It's just fun to be in the ring again after a long winter," she said.

One of the particular challenges this year has been the weather. The tour, which began June 29 in Smirkus' hometown of Greensboro, winds up there again on Aug. 18. In between come 69 performances in Massachusetts, Maine, New York, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, and the heat and humidity have been challenging, said Troy Wunderle.

Sometimes, certain acts have had to be scrubbed from performances because of concerns that the heat and humidity would compromise safety. For the most part, the show has gone on, and the performances have paid a little extra attention to rest and hydration. The fortuitous fact that three Smirkus coaches come from Cuba, Morocco and New Zealand and have some experience performing in warm weather has also helped.

Mostly, though, every day is a circus for the performers, long before they step into the ring. For the Wunderles, it's a family circus.

"I have a little moment that I get to do some humor and clowning with my oldest daughter," said Troy. "It's really fun, as a father to a 12-year-old who's really trying to decide whether she's a girl or a grown-up, to have that opportunity where it's OK to just play."

Tickets to Circus Smirkus in Brattleboro are $17 for children and $20 for adults and are available at www.smirkus.org or 802-254-9260.